ColorWare for BlackBerry Bold Review: Beautiful, Pricey...Not Quite Perfect

If you seek the very best in BlackBerry customization, ColorWare and its vast array of housing colors and color-combinations should be near the top of your list of choices. Check out our review for details on why ColorWare might be a perfect fit for you and your Bold--and why it might not.

If you're a raging CrackBerry addict--or even a burgeoning one--you've likely already taken steps to make your BlackBerry device "your own." Maybe you replaced that stock white trackball with a snazzy new red one, bought a fancy skin or an expensive case? Or perhaps you dropped a cool $1,500 on a custom yellow device from some fancy-pants department store. It happens, trust me...

BlackBerry Bold 9000 with ColorWare Treatment
BlackBerry Bold 9000 with ColorWare Treatment, a.k.a., the HULK BOLD (via @NanPalmero )

Bottom line: You can find many ways to customize your BlackBerry smartphone--especially if you use a BlackBerry Bold, one of Research In Motion's (RIM) most popular devices. ColorWare, a company known for its high-quality--and expen$ive--painted parts for gadgets of all shapes and sizes, including BlackBerrys, iPhones, Mac computers, Kindles and more, really grabbed my eye in recent days. And I was fortunate enough to get my thumbs hands on a set of ColorWare's BlackBerry Bold parts.

I assembled my ColorWare Bold myself to spare the time and extra dollars it takes to send your device to the company so that they can do the work for you. (Unfortunately the Bold is one of only a few devices that can be personalized and reassembled by customers.) And though the process wasn't difficult by any means, I'd be remiss to say it doesn't require some level of comfort and familiarity with gadgetry and electronics. I was also somewhat disappointed with the final results, though I can say with no hesitation that my BlackBerry looks like a million bucks decked out in ColorWare clothes.

Keep moving for specifics on why ColorWare and your Bold could be a match made in 'Berry Heaven...or why your wallet just might thank you for steering clear.

If you still haven't sufficiently quenched that thirst for customized BlackBerrys, check out "BlackBerry Bling: The Hottest--and Priciest--Pimped-Out BlackBerrys."

First up, the good stuff...

ColorWare for BlackBerry Bold: A Rainbow of Things to Like

First and foremost: My BlackBerry Bold looks gooood with the ColorWare parts installed. One of the best things about ColorWare is the sheer number of color options available. And Colorware offers two color finishes to pick from: solid and metallic. The company also lets you preview potential color/finish combinations to see what they look like on its website, so you shouldn't be too surprised by the final results. Honestly, my Bold looks better in the flesh&err, plastic, than it did on ColorWarePC.com. I'm very pleased with the product in that respect.

ColorWare BlackBerry Bold 9000 (rear view)
ColorWare BlackBerry Bold 9000 (rear view)

The Bold is one of only three BlackBerry devices--along with the Curve 8310 and Curve 8320--for which users can order ColorWare parts separately for self installation. That means Bold and (old) Curve owners don't need to send away their devices to ColorWare for a few days.

It's also significantly cheaper to assemble a ColorWare Bold yourself than to send yours in or buy a brand new one from the company: the full ColorWare treatment with self installation starts at $139.00; sending your device to the company will run you at least $179.00; and buying a brand new Bold with ColorWare parts will set you back some $715.

The full ColorWare treatment for Bold includes four painted parts: the bezel, which surrounds the device edges; the bottom section that's below the keyboard and is typically carrier branded; the back battery cover, which makes up the bulk of the Bold's rear side; and finally, the camera plate, which is attached to the battery cover and situated around the Bold camera lens. You can pick any ColorWare color and/or finish for each individual part. Alternatively, you can buy just a battery cover for $99 (you can't currently purchase individual bezels, bottom pieces or camera plates.) In other words, you must buy a battery cover if you want any other ColorWare components for your Bold.

The finish on the ColorWare parts looks beautiful--and perhaps more importantly, it's quite scratch resistant. The standard silver bezel that comes with the BlackBerry Bold scratches very easily, and I found the painted ColorWare bezel less prone to scrapes and dings. The only significant wear and tear on my device is on the bottom corners of the camera plate and the bottom of the battery cover--both of the areas that touch my desk most frequently when I place my device down. Even so, the finish is merely "scuffed" in those places, and the damage is barely noticeable unless you really look for it.

Image of Disassembled BlackBerry Bold with ColorWare Tools
Disassembled BlackBerry Bold with ColorWare Tools

Thankfully, ColorWare sends along an installation kit with all Bold-part-purchases. That kit includes a plastic "pry tool" for removing the Bold motherboard from its bezel, as well as a T5 torque, or jewelers, screwdriver. That's really all you need, but I also employed a pair of tiny tweezers.

The installation process itself is fairly simple, though you'll want to be wearing your Patience Cap, as you'll need to be very careful when removing and replacing some parts--particularly the cable that connects the Bold's motherboard to its display. There are also a couple of tiny metal tabs on the top of the mother board that slide into the Bold's bezel which can bend and break very easily. All and all, the entire install process took me about half an hour. I won't get into much more detail than that, as ColorWare has full installation instructions on its site--I also found BBGeeks.com's Bold assembly guide to be helpful.

Oh yeah, ColorWare also offers a number of cool corporate branding options, but like the Bold parts, they cost a pretty penny.

Now, on to the not-so-good stuff...

ColorWare for BlackBerry Bold: Colorful Complaints

ColorWare's BlackBerry Bold parts may look nice, but you sure do pay for it. I chose the following colors for my device: 1) Jet black "solid" bezel; 2) jet black solid camera plate; 3) "metallic dragon" battery cover; and 4) metallic dragon bottom piece. That set costs $139.

ColorWare BlackBerry Bold 9000 (rear view)
ColorWare BlackBerry Bold 9000

The cheapest ColorWare option you can buy for the BlackBerry Bold--just a battery cover and matching bottom piece--goes for $99. That's way, WAY overpriced, especially when you consider the fact that you can purchase a set containing a black battery cover with matching bottom AND bezel for just $25.99 from CNN.cn. Those parts aren't available in nearly as many colors as the ColorWare components, nor do they feature the same smooth, glossy finish, but cost a mere fraction of the ColorWare parts.

You can also buy single Bold components from CNN.cn and then customize them yourself, if you're the artsy type: Plain black, non-leather Bold battery covers go for $18.99; and bezels, with all side buttons and a battery latch, go for just $12.99.

Also important to note: installing your own ColorWare parts voids your manufacturer's warranty. RIM places a white sticker on the head of one of six tiny screws that holds your Bold together. As soon as you remove that sticker, your warranty is up. You can attempt to remove the white sticker with tweezers and replace it when you're done installing the new parts, but that's easier said than done. Note: ColorWare offers warranty options of its own, but they're only available to customers who either send in their existing devices for customization or who buy brand new devices from ColorWare.

My most significant complaint about ColorWare for the BlackBerry Bold is the fact that the painted battery covers simply don't fit very well--at least mine doesn't. The cover sits nicely into the latches at the top of my Bold, and when it's snapped in place, the left side--if you're looking at the Bold's rear--fits snugly. However, the right side, where the battery cover meets the bezel's headphones jack and mini USB port, simply doesn't fit right. The cover shifts and creaks every time you type.

Frankly, that's a deal breaker for me. I own many Bold battery covers, from RIM's standard leather-ish covers to Seidio's special Bold 3500mAh battery back, and every one of them fits better than the ColorWare cover. As mentioned above, these parts aren't cheap by any means, and the battery cover really ought to fit like a glove for the price...but it doesn't.

Image of Disassembled BlackBerry Bold with ColorWare Tools
Disassembled BlackBerry Bold with ColorWare Tools

What's worse? ColorWare is well aware of the issue and is unwilling to help.

"Honestly, I do hear this from time to time. It seems that that these backs are not always the same," says Lars Rasmussen, the company's director of sales and marketing. "We do test them on our own units but that doesn't always seem to help. This is definitely a known issue."

My take: For $140, this should not be a known issue. It should be a RESOLVED issue.

Finally, ColorWare simply paints Bold parts, it doesn't make them. Naturally, a couple coats of paint and a clear, shiny top coat add some bulk to the device. The painted parts don't add any significant weight, nor do they make your Bold feel noticeably different--except for the smoother finish. But they do make it so tight skins and cases won't fit correctly. I'm a fan of Seidio's Innocase Surface for Bold, but it doesn't fit when my device is equipped with ColorWare parts. It is worth noting, however, that the ColorWare Bold still fits fine in my BlackBerry charge pod.

On to my conclusion...

Conclusion: To ColorWare or Not to ColorWare?

Customized parts for your BlackBerry are clearly a luxury. Nobody really NEEDS a fully personalized BlackBerry, right? It pays to keep this in mind when considering ColorWare, since it really doesn't add any functionality or features to your device.

Still, the parts look great, and if you've got the extra scratch to spend and you want your device to really shine, ColorWare is a great option.

But be forewarned, ColorWare parts for your BlackBerry Bold are not only very expensive, they don't always fit perfectly, as I would've expected from such a pricey product. Specifically, the ColorWare Bold battery door I reviewed doesn't fit well at all and it causes constant creaking and discomfort while I type. This is disappointing, and unfortunately, I'd be hesitant to purchase additional ColorWare products for fear of similar issues.

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